Tag Archives: The South Downs Way



WELL,  there you go. Picked up from Storrington today and drove back to Southampton with Alex for a slot on the Katie Martin Show on BBC Radio Solent. Which made me absurdly nervous and forget most of the things I wanted to say. Katie Martin is very nice, and certainly onside, besides, celebrity media likes positive, but I guess you always feel you’ve a bigger story to tell! Not only that but with one contribution today, perhaps it ain’t about a Media rush at all, but me! Hey oh. You can hear it all, here and now, which exactly like the project is up On Line only for the next seven days:


Which is partly why it was so great to walk it all off again and rejoin the South Downs Way, at the Chanctonbury Ring beyond little Washington. I’m afraid I owe the way a few miles. If you can find some dragon of storytelling here though it’s at these strange, rare ring mounds, and the track that winds up through knotted, tangled and ancient forest, back to the escarpment and the effort to rise above it all. They are either barrows, hill forts or just strange eruptions that curl up the land itself and in them you can see all the power of ancient myths and storytelling, like Mary Stewart’s dragon in The Crystal Cave. But after scrubby Southampton it was a joy to get back up there, under sun and cloud and set off again. Only a two hour straight walk, with no breaks, but always more surprises. So now you realise you’re getting closer and closer to the sea, after that clear, straight chalk path, with such beauty around, and quite a shock then to come over the brow and look down all the way to Brighton. Like the huge scar of a chalk quarry, that looks like a vast, white and unattended bowling alley, Brighton from the hills is frankly a blot on the landscape. Just because it’s man made and the memorial up here to someone’s “beloved South Downs” is so true, all about a love affair with the Downs growing in me too. Oh why, oh why though, did the song just before my little spot have to be Hewey Lewis and the bloody News, with The Power of Love – “makes one man cry and another sing.” If only they knew! That’s it though, it don’t take money, it don’t take fame…what will this take?

It was the stiff sea breezes gusting over the tops, in a glowing early evening, that made me feel I was already on a beach, or the downy, blowsy gentleness of it all, touched of course by the threat of power plants and Brighton Pleasure Pavillions that made everything seem at sea. But then, when the light moves and the clouds are high, when beetling track suddenly tumbles into mown pastures, these Downs not only become beloved, and feminine, and gentle, but you see entirely why England was always a part of the sea beyond and all is one. To get more real, I thought of Orwell and Animal Farm, as I came through a piglet farm, with sweet new snorters nudging the mud, then huge sows squealing in the wind, as crows lined the fencing and got a bit depressed again. So to another tip into a river valley, as the river Arun follows the Downs to the East, the strangely unnerving sight of a sign saying Eastbourne only 40 miles.  I was making for The House of The Rising Sun!

So here I sit, amazed by the beauty of the hills and light above the wimpy homes, across the car park in Upper Beeding, at The Rising Sun pub, bemused that Miss Martin’s show hasn’t made the breakthrough either, pleased by the warmth of my hosts Sue and Barry, who are preparing for their three day beer festival, in the most popular of the three pubs here, because it’s all about people, and wondering why a posh bloke like me is chatting to a geezer about selling kitchen units, next to saucy postcard wallpaper, courtesy of a certain Dupenny down in blousy Brighton. Still, with all I know since coming to the country about real pub life, I must just have more fun. They’re a nice lot here, salt of the beeding earth, tattooed and all, and I am turning to comedy, as I chat to a guy with a cocktail business in Brighton called Mixology and try to mix it up. I have mucked up the route tomorrow, having travelled further than I thought, so will keep you posted. Sue does a cracking walker’s breakfast and the son of the house, going on about writers, how he isn’t educated or a reader, but loved The Shadow of The Wind, thanks to his ex girlfriend, may have saved my life in reminding me what it’s really about – writing and weaving inspiring stories. A girl at the bar who had gown home for a bit to watch a Bake Off moved me too in talking about Children’s Books and how people just don’t read any more.

You can crowd fund Dragon In The Post, right now, pronto, by going to Indiegogo.com and looking it up!

You can also sponsor my walk for the RNIB at JustGiving.com/David-Clement-Davies

The Rising Sun pub does good value pub grub and simple b&b, singles at £35 and £70 a double, with ensuite bathroom. Telephone 01903 814424

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UPDATE: The crowd funded book on Indiegogo, you will get in the post, is now at a soaring 50%!

Bollocks. F** off” Not exactly the sort of effortlessly witty retort that a Jane Austen would have a wandering Mr Darcy say to the young bloke who dared to suggest that the August Boomtown fair he and other working lads are preparing in the cradle of the South Downs way was the sort of thing that an old codger like me might enjoy. At least he was good enough to reply “that’s more like it. See you there then“, though when the hills start to thump and pump perhaps he has a point. Good on yer mate and go to hell! I was already prepared for the sight of a half built pirate ship on the hill, among the rising stages, past the near vacant farm lot where Juniper Enterprises let you drive tanks, to create a bit of local enterprise, from the bush telegraph of walking gossip along the ancient road, that I got my very first taste of today, in a ten-mile walk into Winchester. Walkers are a necessarily chatty lot, even the ones on mountain bikes and there were lots of hails and well mets in the first encounters. It’s to prepare already aching legs to help the Dragon In The Post campaign by walking the hundred miles from Winchester to Eastbourne.

Two miles up from the mad little village of …… then, where I’m staying in right now, I’d already decided that such a city boy knew nothing about this hale and hearty, horribly healthy living lark and was cursing myself for wearing heavy denim jeans instead of shorts, let alone Convertible Trousers. Ah me, the things these people have, though all the good climbing and hiking shops seem to have closed down in Winchester, like the soon to be closed Royal Hampshire County Hospital in the remorseless search for more groaningly wealthy real estate. But walking is about awareness, preparation, kit and being able to adapt to the wind and weather, the changing aspects of a landscape’s face, which today remained ravishing nearly throughout. There is very little that is hard about the South Downs Way and, as a mate said, you are rarely more than two miles away from the pub. God it was lovely to get up there though, out through the gorgeous Hampshire fields of near ripened wheat, curling in the breeze like a lass’s careless auburn hair, and to see how well-appointed the ancient track through the landscape is. A right turn by the big hay barn and on to a path that was not only the ancient thoroughfare from the south coast up to Winchester, the capital of the kingdom of Wessex, but which also crosses The Pilgrim’s Way, that I walked a little of to. That track between Winchester, east through South London to Becket’s shrine at Canterbury. Appropriate then for all the work on Edmund Shakespeare and Southwark at Phoenix Ark Press, not least because in the little discoveries about St Margaret’s Church in London and that seething tavern, brothel and theatre district where Shakespeare’s brother Edmund died in 1607, dominated by the Bishops of Winchester’s London palace, two of the most prominent grandees of the church were Henry Beaufort and William Waynflete.

Their huge sculpted tombs dominate that astonishing church behind the altar of Winchester Cathedral, in what many say is the heart of monied England and deeply conservative too. What you might expect from a church town which also houses a prominent British public school. Beaufort was of course an unreformed Prince of the Church, born in France in his beautiful fort and cousin and protector of the young Henry VI. That saintly, mad and vulnerable king at the heart of the Wars of the Roses, who plays such a critical role in Shakespeare’s Trilogy Henry VI, some of the first real English dramatised histories ever to be written and which heralded Shakespeare’s appearance on the London stage. In the play, when Beaufort confronts the Duke of Glouster with the threat of the pope he cries “Winchester Goose, I cry a rope, a rope!“, referencing that fairly unjust running theme about Winchester and Bishops profiting from those Elizabethan ladies of the London Streets, prostitutes called Winchester Geese. Then the old saying was ‘go a pilgrim, return a whore’. Beaufort certainly sired an illegitimate child and in Shakespeare is portrayed as dying cursing both God and Man, a sounding bell for Reformation attitudes. Waynflete is just as interesting though because, in a see that was second only in importance to Canterbury itself, he founded that most beautiful of Oxford colleges, Magdalene, became an elder Henry’s chancellor and also met the rebel Jack Cade in St Margaret’s Church in July of 1450, hard by the White Horse and Tabard Inns, on Long Southwark road. There he arranged a pardon for the rebels, who had marched into London off Blackheath and sacked the city, then fought a pitched battle across London Bridge, but as the forces quickly dissolved and he began to get an idea of who this mysterious Cade was, swiftly reneged on the deal, hunted him down and had his decapitated head paraded on a cart through the London streets. It would make a great film not least because Cade was a clear stalking horse for the Dukes of York and Essex and the rebellion, that also challenged Edward III’s laws on ta and the working age, in the Complaint of the Commons of Kent, really began the first English Civil War. Those were the days when the entire South Downs and East of England was of course so open both to pirates and French marauders, that saw such threat in the overspill of soldiery from the eventual failures of Henry V’s wars in France. Which also produced such corruption. bad governance and resentment against arbitrary power reflected in the so called Green Wax laws. Perhaps it all deserves a jolly pint of Bishops Finger though, that meaty ale so much in evidence down here at Rawlinson End, because the Pilgrim’s Way is marked by exactly that, a Bishop’s pointing finger. It is only approaching Winchester itself of course that you begin to feel how that ancient centre must have dominated everything, not only in the structures of faith and power, but as a centre for the English wool markets, of trade, learning and of legislation.

But back in the clouds, after a little picnic in the sunshine near Cheesefoot Hill, of smoked trout pate sandwiches, boiled eggs, vine tomatoes and a chile cheese that could blow you stinking hiking socks off,all washed down with Apple and ginger juice, these heroic steps were feeling decidedly springy, bucked by hares breaking out through the nodding barley, Emperor butterflies flashing off the gravel tracks and sunlight dashing brilliance off the cannon-shot clouds and the gentle ripple of the Downs southward. So naturally I forget everything that my flat mates had said and took a wrong turn away from St Catherine’s Hill that added a good three miles to the walk and brought the need for some real Bishop’s Finger. Never fear, beyond Tyfford Down and the odd Victorian Waterworks, I shortened with a guilty hitch hike courtesy of the Hampshire Highways man, until I decided I was breaking my own rules and he might be a cereal killer (pun intended), so got out and then another a trudge on tarmac into Shawford and a welcome slouch at the Bridge Inn.

There you can pick up the Itchen Way instead, that meanders so beautifully past that ravishing little river and walk the 3 miles straight into Winchester proper. It was there I started to see the need not to make too many rules about walking though, not too many deadlines or finishing lines, I mean, because the whole point should be both some achievement and the freedom and sheer discovery of it all. So I got a tiny sense of what medieval pilgrimages must really have been like too, when people set out into a dangerous and unknown world – in the relaxation of the shining river and the sudden encounters on the path, dancing with wild flowers, birds and giant Peter Rabbit Dock leaves; A wiry, bright-eyed gent proudly catching a pouting Grayling as silver as his shining hair, kids throwing themselves into a weir gushed pool, dripping, excited dogs chasing river sticks and the very strange fellow I caught texting in his roadside car, dressed like a Scout master, who advised me he does the walk every week.I met him standing in the bushes. Well, the Winchester Ashford road does conceal the biggest dogging site in Hampshire, so who knows?

No such nonsense on this walk, but the noisome hum and rush of another kind of road, on the shoulder of the curling Itchen, that hurtling stretch of the M3 Motorway that caused such a battle at Twyford Down, when they cut through one of the putative sites of King Arthur’s resting place at Sleeper’s Hill and the powers that be did not want their cricket pitch disturbed by views of traffic. It’s an odd feeling coming out of the miracle of sun freckled copses, light and shade, past neat lawns with devilish Gargoyles on the banks worthy of a Dragon In The Post, passed vaguely guilty looking woodland grazing cows, right under the M3 road bridge, graffiteed with a healthy phallus or urban love notes to whoever wos here, united for a time, back into the sheer lost gentility of Winchester.

But with your back on the M3 the nasty hum of modern hurry and worry, going nowhere, drops away again and I remembered that I had once been on the same train as Laurie Lee, as I passed St Catherne’s hill. That neolithic hill fort and later associated with St Catherine was also damaged in the motorway building, but has been restored and gave a sense of the astonishing history of the downs, with many sacred or numinous sites nestled in these hills. It also perhaps solved a little mystery of the Catherine Wheel, since there was once a water wheel here that dominated what is called the Itchen Navigation. Southwark of course had its Catherine Wheel tavern among the hundreds. So to the grounds of Winchester School and the skirting brick of Cathedral buildings appeared. That ancient target. People everywhere now, changing footsteps and at last the Bishop on The Bridge Pub, right by that statue of King Aelfred, Alfred the Great, who drove the Danes from Wessex and where the South Downs Way traditionally begins. A conundrum over a glass of cider then as to whether I should walk from Winchester or ‘home’ from Eastbourne, and only to discover that my lift back had changed his mind and is as unreliable as everyone else in bloody Hampshire. No, perhaps that’s not it, because country life is all about spaces and changes and these lot go on about things like tides and navigating different ways! On the other hand mate, have some Bishops Finger! Over five quid is far too much to charge for a five mile bus ride home too, but how could anyone complain on a day like that? Hmmm, gather the arnica and run a bath, then a flying lesson tomorrow at Phoenix Aviation to help the Dragon fly.

If you enjoyed this article or are interested in crowd funding a fairytale DRAGON IN THE POST, you can read part of on Facebook or at Wattpad.com and supporting a little publish too please visit and contribute now to the campaign up at Indiegogo.com by CLICKING HERE . The picture is a public domain image of King Alfred in Winchester. The Boomtown Fair runs from the 8th to the 11th of august.

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